Strength from Diversity - How i-Bars Club is Creating Innovative Protein Bars With International Ingredients

Our new blog series, “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle,” is all about founders at rising startups in the Branchfood community who are launching the next wave of exciting food brands.

We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.

In part 2, we spoke to Moemen Abbas, CEO and founder of i-Bars Club, whose mission is to create internationally themed, healthy protein bars. Read on to learn how i-Bars Club tests new ideas, how an incredible team is driving his innovative products, and the secret ingredient in his soon to be released Tokyo-themed bar.

This is part 2 of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 (Veggie Table Foods). Check back in two weeks for part 3!

Tell us a bit about i-Bars Club.

We make premium vegan protein bars with an international theme. We’re introducing new flavors from different cities and each of our bars is named after a city where the key ingredient is from.

There are a lot of meal-replacement, protein, and health bars on the market today - what do you feel is i-Bars’ biggest differentiator?

We try to introduce new flavors you can’t get anywhere else. Most brands of bars have the same flavors - chocolate chip, peanut butter, and so on. Some bars have just a few benefits, and we want our bars to have them all - gluten-free, high-protein, GMO-free, etc. Very few bars hit on all of those. Even worse is that some “protein bars” have less than 15g of protein. That’s not a protein bar for someone who’s working out a lot.

We consider ourselves very innovative, with new products always coming in the pipeline, and we want to introduce a lot of different international flavors. We’re also in a niche market where we’re targeting affluent consumers. These are people who want high quality ingredients from all over the world. For example, our next bar is “Tokyo.” For that, we’re importing matcha directly from Japan to use in our bars. That’s expensive, so we’re targeting affluent consumers. No one else is doing that.

I’ve hired a chef, food scientist, and nutritionist, and I’m a pharmacist by training. This combination is very strong for creating scientifically healthy bars that taste good.

When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?

I studied in international schools for years, and I had this idea to do something that was both healthy and reflected my international background. So I worked with health consultants and they suggested protein bars that sourced ingredients from different countries. It’s taken a lot of time get to a point where we can start production, but so far people love the bars and we’re able to bring super foods from all over the world.

What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?

I’m bootstrapping and focusing on finding the right team who can work with a startup. It’s tough to build a good team with minimal resources. Building a memorable brand is also challenging.

It was also very difficult to get my visa as an immigrant. It took 7-8 months just to get my visa. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles.

Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?

We worked with focus groups we put together through our network - friends, people at the gym, etc. Targeted focus groups are important. Our products are international and everyone has different taste buds. We test with American-only groups and international groups and ask them about our bars as well as our competitors.

We also just go out on the streets and to cafes and hand out samples. We ask just people to try it and get feedback.

For just our first bar, we ran over 25 trials to make sure we had it right.

What food brands have been most influential to you?

Every company has a model - I really like RXBAR. When they changed the design, their sales increased a lot and was noticed more by customers. That showed me how important packaging is for CPG sales.

Labeling all of the ingredients right on the front of the package was a smart move - being transparent is the most important thing in our space. For me, a protein bar must have premium superfoods and quality ingredients. I wish every protein bar told you everything inside it.

Being available everywhere is important as well - Quest Bars has done a great job of getting distributed almost anywhere you can think of.

What success story are you most proud of?

I would say, I invested a lot in real estate in Egypt - I had a lot of experience and I was very lucky when I bought my real estate because I could sell it high. I invested when everyone was selling, and when the market boomed, I made a lot of profits. I’m also very proud of my Master’s in marketing, which has given me a lot of connections worldwide. My network has helped me a lot and I’m proud of it.

How does your global background influence your products and branding?

I traveled all over the world for my education, and I worked in Egypt, Dubai, Singapore, the U.S., and some others. Every time I met people in different parts of the world, I saw that everyone had different habits and cultures. More specifically, I learned that everyone looked at food differently. I was never passionate about health before, but now I am and I’m combining it with my love of travel and sharing it. You can see all of my passions in iBars.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com

Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series:

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #6: Mint Pattanan + Naphat Chaiparinya from Rootastes

What do you do on your lunch break, besides eat? Socialize with colleagues, make a pharmacy run, eat chicken salad at your desk between emails? According to a study done by the hiring company OfficeTeam, Americans are increasingly falling into the latter category, with 29% saying they work through their breaks. New food startup Rootastes is hoping to bring a greater sense of community to the workplace through the oft-neglected lunch hour.

“Even for one hour, we try,” says co-founder Naphat Chaiparinya. She sighs, visibly frustrated. “You’re supposed to have a good time with your good lunch.”

This mission is heavily influenced by the founders’ Thai origins. Co-founder Mint Pattanan Ketthin chimes in, “we like going out together, in a big group. We enjoy eating out. In Thai culture, getting together makes good relations between employees.” With this philosophy, Rootastes targets corporate employers who want to create a sense of community in the workplace.

Another substantial part of the Rootastes mission is addressing the abstraction of mealtime food that’s intensified in the past decades. Both Chaiparinya and Pattanan have experience working in the corporate world, and talk passionately about bridging the gap between workers and the farmers that produce their food. Reflecting on her time WWOOFing on an organic farm in Japan, Chaiparinya says, “Why is life so complicated? You want money to buy food, but you can grow the food yourself! Whatever you want to eat, you just have to wait for it.” It’s this farm-to-table mentality that inspire the founders to maximize partnerships with local farms and curate a seasonal menu in order to accommodate fluctuating supply.

For similarly minded restauranteurs and caterers who don’t know how to start finding suppliers, Rootastes offers a surprisingly simple path: Chaiparinya and Pattanan went to major distributors Baldor Food’s and Russo’s to taste produce from various local farms, then visited the farms which seemed most promising. “It’s good to learn how they make their product,” says Pattanan. “I work in marketing, but the most important thing is that I work in corporate social responsibility. Besides making good food for people, we want to help local farms as well.”

This initiative to find local ingredients demonstrates the applied passion with which Rootastes’ founders conduct their business. Halfway through our interview, Chaiparinya says with a laugh, “you don’t need to ask us questions -- we really want to talk about this!” The two of them had been up since six in the morning to work on an event, but become instantly re-animated when asked about the new corporate lifestyle they hope to encourage. Pattanan’s attraction to the startup industry lies in this problem-solving mentality: “We find the problem, and the company’s product and service are the solution. I want to create something that benefits the community.”

As for building the Rootastes team, Pattanan explains it happened organically: she and Chaiparinya were friends from before, and their executive chef, Wachira Sittikong, was a friend of a friend. Coming from a long line of family-owned leading Thai restaurants in Boston and Massachusetts, Sittikong studied business and worked in the financial district before attending Le Cordon Bleu.

Instrumental in the creation of new dishes, Chef Sittikong helped design the Rootastes menu. Clients choose packages that consist of a carbohydrate base, like white rice or specialty grain, vegetables such as umami medley mushroom or sesame spinach, a protein, perhaps baked spinach or grilled shrimp, and lastly a sauce, be it ginger teriyaki or garlic basil aioli. The menu is extensive, and packages vary in number of servings and scope of choice. Since the spotlight is on the ingredients themselves, the actual cooking process is simple: a bit of seasoning, with house-made herb oil. And it seems to work -- Pattanan recalls one happy employee who told her it was the best lunch he’d had in two years.

I work in marketing, but the most important thing is that I work in corporate social responsibility. Besides making good food for people, we want to help local farms as well.

When it comes to scaling the business, Chaiparinya and Pattanan take a measured approach. In business for just two months, they are entirely self-funded and use a commercial kitchen to prepare food. “We just want to make this happen first,” says Chaiparinya. “We proved to ourselves already that we can make it, but we have to prove that to other people. We got a good answer from our customers, so for me it’s a good start. But for the next step, of course funding is the most important. We know that right now.” Pattanan agrees: “The most important thing is the food. We want to make sure we have a very good product before we jump into technology.”

At the moment, Rootastes clients can order through a chat bot on the company Facebook page, as well as the company’s website. But Pattanan envisions, in the near future, incorporating slack, the inter-company messaging system. “People already know our product, they know our food,” she explains. “When we bring in technology so we can reach new markets, new customers.” Chaiparinya says that most of Rootastes’ clients are companies that employ Boston’s extensive millennial population, a demographic that’s both open to trying new things and interested in sustainable sourcing and transparency in where their food comes from.

Rootastes is just one company in a community of startups that take advantage of Branchfood’s numerous resources. Pattanan and Chaiparinya have met with Branchfood mentors several times to discuss business development, and appreciate the sense of like-minded community they share with other entrepreneurs they’ve met through the organization. “The Boston community is very supportive for entrepreneurs,” says Pattanan. Chaiparinya adds, “It’s been over our expectations. We’re looking forward to using more facilities here -- we should, but we’re so busy!”

You can read more about Rootastes here. If you’re interested in joining the Branchfood community, you can read more about membership options here. Interview conducted by Chloe Barran.

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #6: Joyce Lee of Nibble

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #6: Joyce Lee of Nibble

Snacking is trending. Everywhere you look, people are forgoing the “three square meals” regimen to incorporate more snacks and light meals into their day. But finding the coolest and newest products in the snacking world isn’t easy. Grocery shelves are overflowing with options, and it’s hard to know what to choose, especially, as Joyce Lee would argue, from a taste standpoint. Lee,

Read More

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #5: Julia Paino of Swoffle

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #5: Julia Paino of Swoffle

What pairs well with coffee? Julia Paino, the founder of Swoffle, would tell you it’s the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel, for those who may not be familiar with traditional Dutch snacks, is a cookie made up of two ultra-thin "waffles" sandwiched around a layer of oozy caramel. The cookie softens when placed over (or dunked into) a warm beverage. Julia, who launched Swoffle

Read More

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #4: Danilo Leao of BovControl

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #4: Danilo Leao of BovControl

BovControl, the fast-growing mobile livestock analytics platform, was founded in 2013. But, as co-founder Danilo Leao informed me, its roots go way back. When Danilo was a child on his father’s farm in Brazil, he was already experimenting with the way that data could be used to affect livestock productivity. At 12, he had taken on the duties of “tracking and tracing animals, understanding their activity, and understanding nature.”

Read More

Announcing: Local Food Demos at Branchfood!

Announcing: Local Food Demos at Branchfood!

What’s better than free food? Free food that helps promote a message of buying local! Read on to find out how you can enjoy some delicious snacks and beverages from your favorite local brands -- as well as some that may be new to you.

Read More